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Need extreme distortion for heavy playing?
We’ve rounded up 7 of the best high-gain distortion pedals money can buy.
High gain distortion pedals are quite popular today, especially for heavier types of music like death metal.
With so many options on the market, it can be a daunting task to narrow it down to a few choices, especially if you want to have a bit of versatility and flexibility in your pedal.
In this article, we’re going to explore the 7 best high distortion pedals, each of them offering something unique for your own situation and need.
What Are The 7 Best High-Gain Distortion Pedals?
Our choice for the best high gain distortion pedal is the MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion. This pedal offers fantastic quality, durability, features, and price. On top of that, you can use it to play a variety of styles as it is capable of producing warm overdrive all the way to killer fuzz distortion.
And for the most discerning guitarists, our premium option is the KHDK Dark Blood, the pedal used by none other than the legendary Kirk Hammett.
Here are our candidates for best high gain distortion pedals:
MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion (Our Pick)
TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion Pedal (Best Value)
KHDK Dark Blood (Premium Option)
EarthQuaker Devices Acapulco Gold V2
Mesa Boogie Throttle Box Distortion
Boss DS-1 Distortion
Electro-Harmonix Sovtek Deluxe Big Muff Pi Fuzz
1. MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion
MXR is one of the most respected brands for distortion pedals, and its pedals have been used by legends like Randy Rhoads all the way to Zakk Wylde. They continue being a top maker of distortion pedals and the Super Badass Distortion is further proof.
This high gain distortion pedal can go from warm overdrive to modern metal killer distortion, with a 3 band EQ and a very dynamic and touch-sensitive circuit. Because of its features, versatility, sound, and price, the Super Badass Distortion is our top pick for the best high-gain distortion pedal.
With its highly responsive Distortion control, the Super Badass covers a full spectrum, from early '70s low gain overdrive to modern "scooped" metal distortion and every shade of dirt in between. Once you've dialled in your desired amount of crunch, you can use the Bass, Mid, and Treble controls to finely sculpt your sound.
The design of the M75 is pretty standard for a distortion pedal but with the addition of a highly tweakable EQ. This three-band EQ offers you control over a very wide frequency spectrum with separate controls for bass, mid, and treble.
The EQ and overall construction of this pedal also make it very flexible. Even though it was made with high distortion guitarists in mind, you can also get a variety of nice overdrive tones to fit a variety of genres, situations, and guitar types.
Unlike many other distortion pedals, this MXR unit is capable of doing a great job with both single coils and humbuckers. It can easily produce warm saturated sounds all the way to screaming distortion.
This is mostly thanks to the flexibility that its EQ controls offer, which in turn helps you sculpt your sound and while reaming highly responsive through all levels of saturation.
The M75 Super Badass Distortion offers true bypass switching, features a road-ready durable housing, and can be powered with a 9v battery or a 9-volt adapter (sold separately). It is easy to use, versatile, great-sounding, and at the right price, making it one of the best distortion pedals in the market today.
Gain, Level, Bass, and Treble controls give you total control of your distortion sounds
Voicing switch shifts the bass response
True bypass preserves your tone
Small footprint saves precious pedalboard space
Road-ready design with a tough metal chassis
The TC Electronic Dark Matter offers incredible value in a great-sounding and easy-to-use high gain distortion pedal that is also quite versatile.
Its design features four knobs: Gain, Level, Bass, Treble. It also comes with a voice switch for further tone shaping.
With all knobs set to 12 o’clock, this pedal produces a common smooth breakup. When the gain is cranked, the saturation becomes a little bit muddy, which is common. That’s where the filter knobs come into play.
In contrast to standard distortion pedals which feature a single tone knob, the Dark Matter lets you equalize the low and high end separately. This allows you to carve out some of those lows and create the type of soaring lead tone to shred.
And then there’s the voice switch, which recalibrates the way this pedal responds to the low end. The Dark Matter is another fantastic pedal by TC Electronic, for the budget-conscious guitarist.
3. KHDK Dark Blood
This one is a truly special pedal, made by KHDK, the company of none other than Metallicas’ Kirk Hammet. This pedal was hand-built to offer tube-like distortion for high-gain freaks.
It has been one of Hammet’s main pedals since its release and was used on records like Hardwired… to Self Destruct. The Dark Blood is our premium option for those guitarists that seek the best and most aggressive hi-gain distortion on the market.
Richly articulate and deep, Dark Blood can provide the main tone into your clean amp and is ideal as a fly rig and a backup to an amp or modeling rig. With its high gain and aggressive, uncompromising dynamics, this is the ultimate pedal for gain-freaks, designed both for palm muting riffs and searing high gain solos.
Power supply via 9 V battery or 9 V power supply (not included)
The Dark Blood offers tube-like and mid-heavy distortion with added high gain. It features four knobs: Volume, Treble, Doom, and Gain, as well as a hi and low switch and a noise gate button, plus the footswitch to engage the effect.
All of the knobs are self-explanatory…and then there’s the Doom knob. This one controls the pre-distortion equalization that determines the amount of low-end grunt present in your sound and can dial in a monstrous landslide of bottom-end.
The Dark Blood features an onboard noise gate to keep background noise to a minimum. The Hi/Lo switch takes tone-shaping even further with the Lo setting upping the grunt factor for rhythm and Hi boosting the top-end and sustain for lead breaks. This pedal was built on KHDK’s original circuit combining solid-state and MOSFET technology for increased sensibility and killer sound.
If you play metal or any other style that requires the most aggressive distortion out there, then the Dark Blood is for you.
4. EarthQuaker Devices Acapulco Gold V2
EarthQuaker Devices is a small boutique guitar pedal company that has become a favorite among discernable guitarists. Each of their pedals is hand-built with great attention to detail.
The Acapulco Gold V2 was made for those guitarists that want a distortion pedal like no other. EatrhQuaker devices made it as a power amp distortion effect designed to sound like a fully cranked Sun Model T amplifier, with a harmonically rich tube tone.
This pedal is unique in sound, looks, and overall vibe, and was made for those that like to take a different approach.
The Acapulco Gold is a dirt-simple distortion device modelled after the sound of a cranked vintage Model T amplifier, bringing the openness, clarity, and crunch that only a dimed tube amp can provide, at a fraction of the size, and without expensive maintenance costs!
When this knob is all the way down the pedal is basically muted, but as you start turning it a layer of fuzz emerges. This pedal covers a range of fuzz sounds that keep getting heavier as you turn the knob clockwise.
The hi-gain distortion it produces is very responsive to the volume and tone control on your guitar. Despite its one knob only design, this pedal is quite fun to play with and really adapts to your guitar’s natural tone.
This is the second version of the Acapulco Gold (hence the V2 on its name) and features an upgraded silent switching system. EarthQuaker redesigned several circuit boards to accommodate its new relay-based soft-touch switching.
Now, since there’s no hard click when you engage the pedal, the Acapulco Gold V2 is more comfortable to play without shoes, and its switch is quite durable and road-ready. Without an audible “pop”, switching is completely discreet.
5. Mesa Boogie Throttle Box Distortion
Mesa Boogie has been one of the most respected and legendary names in guitar amplification. They know a thing or two about distortion, and the Mesa Boogie Throttle Box is another great example of that.
This hi-gain distortion pedal is capable of screeching tones for metal and beyond, but also for organic and warm overdrive and distortion that can hit the spot for blues and classic rock. In true Mesa Boogie fashion, the Throttle Box is a versatile and great-sounding unit.
The THROTTLE BOX™ Distortion serves up all genres of ROCK with cut and aggression but retains the signature warmth and organic sonic quality found in all our amplifiers. In all settings the pedal convinces through a high throughput; Nevertheless, the tube warmth is always there.
Versatile distortion pedal with powerful tone shaping
True bypass switching ensures you maintain your tone
Low- and high-gain modes make it easy to switch between modern and classic sounds
Master-level can add up to 20dB of signal boost
Tone and Mid-cut controls let you fine-tune your tone
The Throttle Box features a Mid-cut control that scoops out midrange to give you the signature Boogie V amp sound that many guitarists use to create heavy guitar tones. Additionally, this unit features up to 20dB of signal boost on tap, to add even more power whenever you need to take it up a few notches.
This pedal was made with high gain distortion users in mind. However, its selectable low- and high-gain settings, separate tone and mid-cut controls, and extra signal boost via the master level control, offer you a great deal of versatility for various styles and situations.
Aside from metal, this pedal is also a great choice for blues, classic rock, and fusion.
This unit is built in the USA in a rugged enclosure that can take the abuse of live gigs. It is powered by a 1 x 9V battery or an optional 9V power supply (sold separately). This is a great choice for professional guitarists that want a fantastic and versatile distortion pedal that will last them for years.
6. BOSS DS-1 Distortion
The BOSS DS-1 has been in production since 1978 and has been used by countless guitar legends like Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Dave Navarro, John Petrucci, Marty Friedman, and Kurt Cobain.
The DS-1 is affordable, with great sound, and the classic rouged boss stompbox design and enclosure. There has been a demand for this pedal for over 40 years, and that is quite an accomplishment. This is inarguably one of the most sought-after distortion pedals in the history of the electric guitar.
The DS-1 is the top-selling BOSS compact pedal ever, and its original, unchanged design continues to inspire the creation of great music everywhere. The classic DS-1 tone is behind the signature sounds of numerous rock legends and is ready to fuel your own signature sound today.
The BOSS DS-1 features three knobs that are enough to offer you several flavors of distortion, from overdrive to heavy crunch. There’s a tone knob, a level knob, and a distortion knob. By cranking each up or down, you can pull out a range of different tones going from subtle saturation to rich distortion all the way to all-out fuzz.
The midrange on the DS-1 is scooped, which gives it a unique and characteristical flavor that has been sought after by guitar players for four decades.
The BOSS DS-1 offers enough versatility to be used in blues, classic rock, country, jazz, and even heavier styles like metal. With just their knobs, it is quite easy to use and intuitive, making it a great distortion pedal for beginners and pros alike.
Yup, BOSS has sold over 10 million units of the DS-1, making it one of the most popular pedals in history.
7. Electro-Harmonix Sovtek Deluxe Big Muff Pi Fuzz
The Big Muff line of distortion pedals has reached legendary status over the years for cretin g some of the most iconic guitar and bass tones ever. With the Sovtek Deluxe Big Muff Pi Fuzz, Electro Harmonix combines the comprehensive tone-shaping controls from the Deluxe Big Muff Pi combined with the classic sound of the Big Muff.
The Sovtek Deluxe offers fantastic distortion that is truly malleable and versatile, making this pedal one of the best in the market today.
In addition to the familiar Sustain, Tone, and Volume controls, the Sovtek Deluxe Big Muff Pi provides a parametric midrange EQ section with up to 10dB of boost/cut and a Wicker switch for tailoring your high frequencies.
You’ll also find a wet/dry Blend control and a built-in noise gate to tame excessive noise, for added versatility.
This distortion pedal also features a foot-switchable mids section that comes with variable center frequency and boost/cut knobs. You can focus the mids, enhancing them anytime you need a little more juice to cut through the mix.
Additionally, the Wicker switch helps you control the high-frequency response for a clearer attack. The noise gate keeps hum and buzz at bay while keeping your tone intact.